When emergency measures are the only way to help keep families alive

An Oxfam staffer unloads food flown into an airstrip in Nyal, South Sudan. Photo by Corrie Sissons

In this photo essay, follow the steps as food makes its way to some of the families who need it most.

Conflict has plunged parts of South Sudan into a man-made famine and millions of people across the country are living with unprecedented levels of hunger. In South Sudan we have been supporting over 400,000 people to have safe access to food, with cash or vouchers to buy from local markets and distributing food with the World Food Programme (WFP).

In March, our Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods team (EFSVL) learned that new families were arriving in the town of Nyal exhausted and severely malnourished. People had fled their homes to escape the fighting, had their food looted and crops destroyed. This meant that people hadn’t eaten for days.

Many came from Mayendit, walking for two to five days and with much of the journey through the waters of the vast Sudd marshes. Children were subdued and many people were so weak they could only lie on the floor. The next food delivery was several days away, so our team had to act fast. The desperate situation meant that an exceptional decision was taken to charter a plane and fly in a supply of beans and oil from Oxfam’s Juba warehouse. This was complimented by salt bought in local markets.

In photos by Oxfam staffers Corrie Sissons and Lauren Hartnett, here’s a step-by-step look at what it took to ensure that the families could eat:

Before food is distributed in an area, Oxfam staffers survey local traders to see if items can be bought locally. The survey showed that salt was available, so this was purchased in Nyal.

When the plane landed at the airstrip, Oxfam staffers unloaded the sacks of beans and cans of oil—enough for about 1,800 people, most of whom are women and children.

Staffers load food into vehicles so they can deliver it to the sites where people will gather for the distributions.

An Oxfam staffer records the fingerprints of people who will be receiving food during the distribution. The fingerprints are in lieu of signatures and serve as verification that people got their share of beans, oil and salt.

Among those registering for food was Majok Noan Mayian, left, who was being helped by Oxfam staffer Pedro Marial Rock. Mayian had arrived in Nyal the day before the distribution after a two-day journey through the marsh from Mayendit, where his home had been burned. “What we have left behind is a horror,” he said. “What we have in Mayendit is gone – houses are burned, our cattle are taken. And then living in the islands there, you don’t know if you will live to see the next day.” On distribution day, Mayian received rations for himself and eight of his family members who traveled with him.

Oxfam staffers portion out cooking oil to distribute to families who had registered for food. To reach this particular destination and deliver food for 47 families, the Oxfam team drove a four hour round trip. Households have an average of six people each. Many of those newly arrived in the Nyal area turned to locals for help, and the hosts willingly shared what little they had. Displaced families receiving food at the distribution told Oxfam staffers they would return that favor, and share their portions with the people who had welcomed them.

A 70-year-old woman named Nyakong receives a share of food. She had arrived in the area a week before with four grandchildren between the ages of 5 and 11. Her two children fled to the highlands and she is hoping they will join her soon. Nyakong’s plan is to stay in the area. She knew no one when she arrived, but the community welcomed her family and shared food with them. But before the distribution, the only food Nyakong and her grandchildren had to eat were water lilies. She planned to share her beans and oil with the hosts who had helped her earlier.

As soon as they received their food, people stoked up their fires and got to work preparing a meal of beans.

Distribution day provided some much-needed relief for many displaced families in the Nyal area, lifting spirits and even allowing child’s play to return to what it what it might have been during a more peaceful time. “Playing kitchen,” these children have their own small pot of beans to cook over their own little fire.

Now that the families are in Nyal, the WFP will register them to receive monthly food support. 

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